Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A reserve torn apart

A great piece from the Frontier Centre on the tragic status of our reserves. Check out our Centre for Aboriginal Policy Change for our work on aboriginal policy.

In person, Arthur and Donna Gabriel are a quiet, unassuming couple. After years of hard work and sweat, by dint of only their own funds and effort, they built a business, a cattle ranch, valued at half-a-million dollars. They sought financial independence, but what they got was a never-ending legal nightmare. They lost it all because, unlike most citizens, the Gabriels had the misfortune to reside on an Indian reservation, at the Waterhen in central Manitoba.

Unfortunately, what happened to the Gabriels and their ranch is not unique. It is a template for the fate of thousands of aboriginal Canadians across the country. Why do residents of First Nations seldom improve their homes or start businesses? They have little or no security of possession for the value they create.

The political machinations that form the backdrop for the Gabriels' catastrophic loss are long, messy and confusing. The trouble started in December, 1992, when some residents of the Waterhen reserve, the Gabriels among them, demanded more financial accountability from their leaders, who had cloaked their dealings in a blanket of secrecy. The following year, the dissidents elected a majority of councillors to the band's government who promised to address these issues. Arthur Gabriel, who had never before served on the band council, was one of them.

That precipitated a long tug of war between the chief and reformers on the band council. Most of the information for this report came from the dissident faction, who vehemently defend their actions over the following four years. The lesson that emerges from the eventual debacle does not depend on who was right or wrong. The problem is a system of aboriginal governance that cannot resolve such disputes peacefully.

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